Nott

A Magazine for Alumni and Friends


SummerNott Memorial 2011

Dorm room offices:

Student-entrepreneurs open for business

Shoe designs cover a wall in Sam Barstow’s Schenectady apartment
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ountless alumni run thriving businesses, from Ariel Fox ’00 and her interior design firm in Los Angeles to the Andelman brothers (Mike ’94, Dave ’92, Dan ’97) and Phantom Gourmet in Boston. Some enterprising individuals even start their companies before becoming alumni. Sam Barstow, Jake Anderson and Pete Mugford, who graduated June 12, are three such people.


Forsake

During winter break of their sophomore year, Barstow and Anderson were inspired and galvanized by their work at ski resorts in Utah and Montana.

“We both noticed young skiers and snowboarders at the mountain wearing skateboard or basketball-style sneakers— footwear not meant for harsh and variable alpine conditions,” Anderson said. “Back at school, I approached Sam about creating an outdoor sneaker company that combines modern styles with technical fabric and features usually only found in outdoor boots and shoes.”

“We wanted to address the vast discrepancy between style and image preferences of young outdoor enthusiasts and current products on the market,” Barstow added.

And so Forsake was born.

“The name is a combination of ‘for Sam and Jake,’” Anderson said. “And it’s also a call to abandon traditional outdoor footwear for our outdoor sneakers.

But it wasn’t easy, translating the vision of their company name into shoes. Over the next couple years, they struggled to find a designer who suited their needs and a facility that could make the high-quality product they wanted.

Eventually, they found both. Prototypes of their shoes, designed by freelancer Rhett Miles of Seattle, are in the works. These, like all future products, will be made at a Gortex-certified factory in China.

“The main thing we’re targeting is waterproofing— Gortex—because you want to keep feet dry,” said Barstow, a mechanical engineering major. “Our footwear will also take that really flat bottom of popular skate shoes and meld it with the more aggressive grip and traction of outdoor shoes.”

“They’ll be for outdoor enthusiasts, not for use while snowboarding, but inspired by action sports,” he added. “They’ll be versatile and well-rounded, so you can wear them anywhere, from campus to a hiking trail to a snowy mountain.”




Shoe designs cover a wall in Sam Barstow’s Schenectady apartment

Jake Anderson ’11 and Sam Barstow ’11 look over shoe designs.

The shoes, which will cost between $90 and $120, will be offered by retailers like EMS, Zappos and Backcountry.com. They’ll also be available online when Forsake launches its website, which will also include a blog, in August.

“We want to be pretty see-through in terms of what we’re doing and where we’re going,” Barstow said. “A blog will help us differentiate ourselves from shoe companies that are seen as huge and corporate. We want to be grassroots, open and personal.”

“We want people to see us for who we are— two guys who want to make cool shoes,” added Jake Anderson ’11 and Sam Barstow ’11 look over shoe designs.

Having started his entrepreneurial ventures a bit sooner than Barstow and Anderson, Pete Mugford has some clients who already know him pretty well. They’re clients who’ve been with him since Rackemtees.com.

Custom Universe

Mugford and his partner, Rob Noe, then a student at the University of Rhode Island, started Rackemtees.com during fall 2008. The venture answered a sizable demand for college drinking T-shirts, which could be custom-ordered on the site. Rackemtees did well, with Mugford and Noe servicing two dozen schools by the end of their sophomore year.

Shortly thereafter, Union fraternities, sororities and athletic teams also began asking for personalized garb, and that got Mugford and Noe thinking in a new direction.

“People wanted custom apparel that could be purchased over the internet,” Mugford said. “Going with this, we sold Rackemtees in early 2009 and used that capital to start Custom Universe.”

One short year later, the new company found its niche selling Patagonia fleece jackets, previously ordered by the women’s lacrosse team.

“They loved the jackets; even non-team members were approaching us to buy them. That’s when we thought of selling them to the Union bookstore,” Mugford said. “We didn’t have big expectations, but Donna Davenport ordered 130 jackets. It wasn’t much, but it was like a million dollars to us. We were just college students, happy to have enough credibility for her to invest in us.”

The Patagonia jackets sold quickly and in spring 2010, Davenport put a sales representative named Mike Pillsbury in touch with Mugford. With his help, Custom Universe was able to sell collegiate Patagonia products to dozens of colleges and universities in the Northeast.

By May 2011, Custom Universe was the sole collegiate Patagonia bookstore vendor, and the largest Patagonia vendor in North America.

With business booming, Custom Universe opened a 15,000-square-foot production facility in Everett, Mass. in June 2010. All of the customization, from screen printing to embroidery, happens right there. And if this weren’t enough, a month later, Gary Guyton, starting linebacker for the New England Patriots, signed a two-year endorsement contract to wear Custom Universe products.

Guyton is featured on the company website, where shoppers can order pretty much any personalized product they can think of.

“Jonathan Bartus, a good friend and computer software engineer, developed the program. It allows people to create and upload their own designs, or choose from a gallery, and order the products right on our site,” Mugford said. “It’s very user-friendly.”

A model shows off a Custom Universe Patagonia jacket made for the Union College bookstore. (Photo by Michael Indresano)

From left, Rob Noe, Sean Stellato (Gary’s agent), New England Patriot’s linebacker Gary Guyton, and Pete Mugford ’11. (Photo by Michael Indresano)

Building this sophisticated website, while securing a celebrity endorsement, managing six employees and captaining the Union baseball team, hasn’t been easy, however.

Support made it possible

“In the beginning, with Rackemtees, it was hard to manage school, baseball and the site,” Mugford said. “By the time my junior year started and Custom Universe was a legal company, it was even more difficult. Instead of spending three hours a day working on the company, I was spending six.” “And now, in my senior year,” he added, “I work from my room close to 45 hours a week. My life is consumed by it.”

Anderson and Barstow can relate.

“The learning curve has been insanely steep,” Anderson said. “At the start, we had no idea how to make shoes, work with a designer, find factories, or deal with any of the laws and legalities regulating companies and contracts. Everything posed a challenge.”

Fortunately, all three have very supportive families. Relatives and friends have backed them financially and offered their professional expertise free of charge, though Mugford has also taken on significant outside loans to run his operations. Barstow and Anderson will have to do the same once their shoes are in production, unless they decide to try to find independent investors.

Union has also done its part to help.

“During all of this, we’ve been relying on Union alumni for Footwear 101,” Anderson said. “Professor Hal Fried introduced us to James Mann ’86, a senior vice president for a large footwear company in Hong Kong. Jim’s been our liaison in China; he represents us well and has a ton of experience he willingly shares.”

“Les Trachtman ’77 has also given lots of advice about forming contracts, agreements with designers and raising money,” Barstow added. “We’ve been overly impressed with these alumni, who go out of their way to help. It’s pretty remarkable.”

Trachtman, and Fried especially, have also been there for Mugford.

“The independent study Christian Nebergall ’11 and I did with Hal was a great educational experience that structured our business model and helped develop interaction skills with clients,” said Mugford, an economics student. “It was awesome to do academics that were applicable to my business. It took a real burden off my shoulders.”

Anderson and Barstow whole-heartedly agree.

“What’s really been important for me is my senior thesis,” Barstow said. “I’m developing a system to map pressure distribution between the foot and shoe, so I’m gaining lots of critical knowledge about the fit of shoes.”

“My senior thesis with Hal is equally applicable,” Anderson added. “I’m taking the challenges we face with Forsake, researching them, devising solutions and implementing those solutions during day-to-day business. It’s very much applied.”

And therein lays the beauty and power of Union in the early careers of these entrepreneurs. Without its alumni and professors, Mugford, Barstow and Anderson doubt they’d be as far along as they are now.

“I credit the College with a lot,” Mugford said.

“If Hal’s support hadn’t been so continuous, if Donna Davenport hadn’t given me that opportunity in the bookstore, this might not have happened.”

 Summer  2011 table of contents